thankitforwardWhen my professional colleagues at The Community Roundtable started posting their “Thank It Forward” posts recently, thereby recognizing three specific people or groups that have made a difference in their lives this year, I knew I wanted to do the same. So it’s taken me a while to think through it and come up with this post. My three who have had the greatest impact on me this year are from all parts of my life, so it’s an unlikely trio, but a meaningful one to me.

The first person I want to thank for his impact on me this year is my new pastor, Mark Williams. I cannot adequately express how thrilled I am to have this man as my pastor. He is a kind, loving, gracious soul who is profoundly committed to proclaiming the Word of God and calling others to a life of faithful service to Christ. He is wise far beyond his 31 years with a wisdom that can only come from the Spirit of God within. When he preaches, you know you are hearing the truth of the gospel. He is not out to impress others or dictate to others or to draw attention to himself. He is a servant of his Lord and an incredibly gifted and faithful proclaimer of truth.

It is important to me that I deeply respect my pastor. Life has been a bit out of whack in times past when there has been some tension between a pastor and me. That’s not a good situation and not one I care to repeat. I respect the role of pastor and want the relationship to reflect that respect. Mark makes it easy for me to do that because we are united around a common purpose and cause and desire. I would be quite content to learn from this man for the rest of my days on this earth. He makes me want to be a better person in general and a better Christian in particular. I know my own relationship with Christ ought to produce those same desires and it does, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a key person in the flesh that draws you in that direction as well. I thank God for Mark Williams and look forward to his continued influence on me, our church and our community.

The second person I want to thank is my bride of 35.5 years, Linda. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as she does. While her role as kitchen hostess at church and self-employed caterer is officially part-time, she sure does seem to be going at one or the other full-time. And if she isn’t absorbed in those activities, she’s gardening or doing yard work or something else – anything but resting (which she really ought to do more of). Anyone who knows us can tell you how different we are. That has always been the case. In fact, we lost some college “friends” when we got engaged in 1978 for that very reason. They worried that we were so different that it would never work for us to be married and they simply could not and would not give their blessing to it. Well, 35.5 years later, I would beg to differ with their assessment. That doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye or have no issues, but we’ve learned to keep the main things the main things and not elevate minor differences to a loftier level of attention than they deserve.

I want to thank Linda for loving me all these years, for continuing to do the less-than-glamorous things that come with managing a home and family, for forgiving me when I have been self-absorbed or downright thoughtless or mean or stupid, for being an absolute rock of faithfulness and consistency for the entire time I have known her from my sophomore year of college through the present, and for being the mother of our two sons and grandmother to the newest generation of Rosses. I cannot imagine life without her, and I am thankful now and forever for her.

The third person I want to call out in my #thankitforward this year is my manager at Humana, Lewis Bertolucci. Lewis took a chance in late 2011 by adding me to his Enterprise Social Media team at work when there were not originally plans to have that team own the internal social media function I manage so much as the external, customer-focused media. Lewis is a remarkable person who knows more about the field than I ever will. He can’t possibly sleep much and still juggle all the things he has his hands in. It’s no wonder he was included in a recent list of the top 100 digital marketing experts. Don’t even think about trying to match his Klout score!

There are so many things I appreciate about Lewis as my manager. He is open and honest and I can discuss whatever I need to discuss with him. He trusts me to do my work and has no inclination to micromanage me or others. He is funny and creative and will blindside you with a funny photoshopped picture or JibJab video and seems to have funny animated GIFs ready for all occasions to throw into online discussions. He keeps his cool in the midst of what I know are very stressful, demanding days at work. He thinks of others more than he thinks of himself. He can write out the best, thoughtful, reasoned response to situations where others would be tempted to respond quickly and emotionally. He gives wise counsel that others (including me) would do well to heed. He is supportive and encouraging to his team. And as is shown by the expanded role he offered me in August this year, he is eager to see those he supervises grow into their potential, even when that means they leave the team for other roles as some did in 2013. Like my pastor mentioned above who is in his early 30s, Lewis is also wise beyond his years and has earned the deep respect I have for him as a person and as a manager. I am fortunate to have him and hope to learn from him for many years to come.

So there you have the three people from different areas of my life who I am most thankful for in 2014.

I won’t end this post, though, without also recognizing the one professional organization that has also been very significant for me this year as well – The Community Roundtable. I have enjoyed being a member of this organization of online community professionals for several years, but this year the connection stepped up a notch when they graciously agreed to take over the reins of the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat which I started in 2013. They are doing a great job with the chat and will continue to innovate and do things with it that I as an individual could never do. I am deeply appreciative of their willingness to do this. I know the work involved in making it successful and worthwhile week after week. It is no small task. Thank you, Hillary Boucher, Rachel Happe, Shannon Abram, Jim Storer and all the wonderful people at TheCR! You do amazing work that is very much appreciated by many.

What about you? For whom would you #thankitforward for their impact on you in 2014?

Better-NotBitterNone of us have the luxury of experiencing life without some bad things happening from time to time. Granted, some people seem to have a dark cloud that hovers over them a little more frequently than the rest of us, but all of us probably have more negative experiences than we’d like. (Do we want any negative experiences? I don’t think so.)

You can tell a lot about someone by how he/she reacts to those less-than-pleasant and even tragic events of life. Some may seem to surrender all hope for the future and forever consider themselves victims with no way out. Others may fail to even acknowledge the negative and go on rather blindly choosing not even to notice or react to events. Still others may hover somewhere in between the first two by acknowledging and dealing with the negative, but then making every effort to move past it and move forward with life, having learned from the experience in some way. It’s the old “lemons into lemonade” response.

I tend to be more optimistic than not the majority of the time. There are various reasons for that:

  • Life is more enjoyable focusing on the positive than on the negative.
  • I don’t like being around people who are overly negative, so I don’t want to be like that.
  • My Christian faith provides an underlying hope for this life and the next that surpasses anything temporarily negative I experience.

We can’t always choose our circumstances in life, but we can make the most of wherever we are. We can and do choose the attitudes we carry in circumstances – for good or bad. We have the option of learning from experiences, choosing to leave the past in the past, and building on our new situation for the future.

As for the attitudes we respond with when bad things happen, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to respond by trying to be a better person as a result and by trying to make life better because of what happened instead of being bitter and living with the ongoing drain on life, emotions, and health that bitterness yields? I’m not claiming it’s always easy to do that, nor am I presuming that it is possible merely through one’s own strength to do so, but I’m certain it’s the more promising path.

When bad things happen, be better – not bitter.

Im-Not-Thankful-EnoughThis week has been a mixed bag of emotions for me. With the American Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, there have certainly been more than the usual number of moments reflecting on all for which I am thankful. But some of the week was dominated by other less-than-admirable emotions of anger, of disgust with what I was watching in the news, and of times when I spoke or wrote out of those emotions when I should have probably just kept my thoughts to myself.

What I should have demonstrated for the week was an ongoing attitude of gratitude. What I actually demonstrated was a far cry from that. I resonated immediately, therefore, with my friend, Jay’s, post on Facebook last night when he wrote, “I’m thankful, but not often enough. It’s good to have a day to be reminded.”

I really do have so much to be thankful for:

  • a family who loves me and whom I love;
  • my first grandson and second grandchild on the way, due in April;
  • a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood in a city we’ve enjoyed living in for almost 30 years;
  • a job and career that is fun and fulfilling and a joy to invest my time and professional life in daily;
  • all the food and necessities of life a man needs – so much more than what is typical throughout the world;
  • a country that in spite of its challenges is where I prefer to live;
  • good health that allows me to do what I want when and where I want;
  • a church and church family I have loved since our second week in Louisville in 1985;
  • a relationship with the living God that provides ultimate meaning, purpose and hope for this life and the next;
  • the opportunity to freely read, study and apply God’s Word to my life;
  • opportunities to serve God and others every week in a variety of ways;
  • and even the best canine friend and companion I’ve ever had in my nearly 58 years.

When I look at the above list, I am in awe at the blessings I enjoy. And I am simultaneously embarrassed by the times I allow an unhealthy focus on other matters to steal that joy. I am ashamed that I could for a moment look past these giant gifts only to focus elsewhere. I regret that I fail to be a consistent source of a good and encouraging word to others, choosing instead to sound off about my latest emotional reaction to news or events of the day. I feel remorse for getting angry at those with whom I disagree rather than seeking to understand and show the love of Christ in the midst of those differences. I realize after the fact far too often that I have failed to be Christ’s ambassador when I spew from my mouth the venom that I allow to fester in my heart, for “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matthew 12:34), and that overflow is too often sewage rather than life-giving water.

So on this day after Thanksgiving, please know that this ongoing work in progress called Jeff is truly grateful and thankful for so much. Also know that I am truly sorry for those moments when I am far less than what I can and should be. I am called to be conformed to His image, and I have a long, long way to go.

ESNchat-smallOne of the most satisfying things I’ve done professionally in recent years is to start the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September 2013, to see it grow through the 13 months I hosted it, and now to see it have new life and new leadership going forward through The Community Roundtable (@TheCR). After sensing a void in the world of enterprise social networking in the summer of 2013, I started the chat to provide a regular, free, vendor-neutral place where practitioners and enthusiasts involved with businesses’ internal social networks could share insights and help develop the field of enterprise social.

My friends at TheCR were receptive to the idea of them becoming the leaders for the chat when I approached them in August 2014. They kindly agreed to take on the challenge and as of October 2 they have been the very capable facilitators of the chat. Now that a little time has passed since the transition, I’ve had time to ponder the journey of that 13 months. I’ll share a few simple reflections on the experience here.

I recall the first chat on September 12, 2013. I had secured the domain name and the Twitter persona, discussed it with a number of people in the field, and started promoting it as best I knew how (which wasn’t very well in hindsight). I recall how nervous I was before that first chat wondering if anyone would show up. Had I done all this planning in vain? Was it going to be a giant failure that embarrassed me publicly? I was jittery as the hour approached from the uncertainty of it all.

Thankfully, people showed up (phew – that was a relief)! We had a great discussion and the chat was immediately an important part of my week and an opportunity to try to move the needle of enterprise social networking forward in some small way.

While the subject of enterprise social networking is near and dear to my heart as the community manager for Humana’s ESN, this effort was never under the auspices of my work. It was just Jeff’s little effort for good or bad, for success or failure. I never counted a single hour of the time devoted to #ESNchat as time working for Humana. That makes it all the more satisfying now that over a year later we typically have about 40 participants, hundreds of tweets, and excellent conversation every week.

I am thankful for the 225 participants we had over that first 13 months and I enjoy seeing new faces every week in the chat. I am thankful for the great archive of topics we have accumulated over time and continue to build under TheCR’s leadership.

There were a couple of surprises and disappointments along the way. For example, I woefully underestimated the amount of time per week it took to host a one-hour Twitter chat. I didn’t track the time in detail, but my best guess is that it took on average about an hour a day seven days a week due to the planning, archiving, promoting, and notifying participants of updates. That was a bit more than I bargained for, but it was time well spent.

The only real disappointment I experienced in the 13 months hosting is totally my own doing in that I did not bring to fruition the ESN Handbook I envisioned as a collaborative effort among participants. Given the existing commitment of time just to pull off the chat (along with other work and volunteer activities), I couldn’t get the handbook done. There’s a collaborative ESN Handbook eBook/website out there just waiting to be created and annually updated for some entrepreneurial group (hint, hint).

Now that I’m a regular participant in the chat with no leadership responsibilities, I get to experience weekly what those 225+ others have experienced rather than frantically trying to host the chats and simultaneously take part in the conversation. Frankly, it’s a bit more fun now for me and a lot less stressful.

One of my key lessons learned for 2013 was to take risks. When I wrote about that end-of-year lesson, I had #ESNchat in mind. It would have been easy to bemoan the absence of such a free, public forum for ESN practitioners. It would have been easy to think someone else should do it. It isn’t easy for introverts like me (yes, I’m an introvert) to put myself out there so publicly and try to start something that could go down in flames quickly. But I gave it my best shot and with the regular participation of many talented, knowledgeable professionals whom I have come to know and respect, we succeeded.

Now when I sit back for a moment in chats led by TheCR, when I see new faces introduce themselves, when I read the kudos from participants who benefit from the chats, and when I develop new professional relationships with fellow ESN enthusiasts, I smile a quiet but very satisfying smile like a proud papa watching his child grow up and go out into the world on his own.

Chats only succeed when there are multiple people chatting. I may have started it, but only through others’ involvement has it continued, and I am grateful for each participant. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Where will it be in one year? Two Years? What innovations will TheCR introduce (such as the #ESNchat Mini-Decks they’ve already introduced)? What actions will come from the chats? What takeaways will be implemented in businesses of all shapes and sizes that make a positive difference in those organizations’ internal communications and social collaboration?

There is no way of knowing the answer to those questions, but I am quietly confident that such applications will be made and the impact will be significant over time.

Thanks to all who joined me in the venture. Continue to join me and so many others weekly on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern time as TheCR leads us into the next phase of ESNchat. The future is bright!

PastorAppreciationMonthThis is Pastor Appreciation Month. Pastors should be appreciated every month of the year for the important, tireless, and unending work they do, but it’s still good to set aside a particular month to show our appreciation.

So let me take this opportunity to publicly thank my pastor, Mark Williams, and my associate pastor, Kris Billiter, for who they are, for all they do for so many people, and for the very positive impact each has on me, my family, and my church.

Mark has only been my pastor since mid-August 2014, but I cannot express how thrilled I am to have him and his great family at my church – Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Mark is gifted in many ways, but what stands out to me is the powerful preaching that God brings to pass through him every week. I recently heard Mark say that 90% of his time weekly is spent on sermon preparation, and it shows. I appreciate that passion for and devotion to the Word of God. A very high view of scripture is sadly lacking in many churches today, and it thrills my soul to know that Mark understands the centrality of the Word of God in his mission as pastor.

Mark has a great family as well with a wonderful wife and two precious children. It is clear that the family is fully devoted to one another as they serve Christ and others. I look forward to many years together as a faithful servant in the church.

It pleases me that Mark is as young as he is – 31 years old – because it increases my hope in the future of our church and the rock-solid grip God can have on people of all ages who willingly surrender their lives to His lordship. With my sons’ ages 31 and 34, my manager at my work being 31, managing a small team at work of others in their 20s, and having loved my college ministry years hanging out with those much younger than me, I have an affinity for a younger generation and am excited to see them lead others of all ages.

It has also been a tremendous blessing this past year and a half just prior to Mark being called as pastor to have our associate pastor Kris Billiter serve as interim pastor while we went through the long pastor search process. Kris is about to leave us to plant a new church elsewhere in the county, so we will be sad to see him go, but he goes with our blessing and heartfelt gratitude for the phenomenal way he led us in the interim period (and in other capacities for years before). I count him as a trusted friend and I know he will be used by God for great service now and in the years ahead. I would have been glad to have Kris as my pastor should that have come to pass, but God had other plans that we all now see as better for all concerned.

I was never a pastor, but I have served as associate pastor, minister of education, youth minister and college minister in a variety of paid ministry and volunteer roles. I can’t completely understand the thoughts and daily concerns of a lead pastor since I haven’t been one, but I can well imagine the joys and the difficulties of the role as one deals with fickle human beings (like me) while trying to be a faithful servant of the Most High God.

Through the years I haven’t always been the exemplary church member and am surely not now either. I had some adversarial times with a previous pastor – a dark and difficult period for my wife and me that is thankfully in the past. I don’t ever want a repeat of those days. The pattern of my life is to respect the person and the position of pastor and that is the way it should be.

So as I ponder ways I can continue to show appreciation to my pastor, here are some things that come to mind:

  • Pray by name daily for my pastor, his ministry, and his family.
  • Be an eager, active and vocal supporter of his ministry.
  • Make my default answer to requests he may make of me be “yes” unless there are extremely unusual circumstances that prevent doing so in particular situations.
  • Be reasonable in my expectations of him as a person; He’s not superman.
  • Respect his time and the time he needs with family as well as down time to get away and recharge.
  • Serve tirelessly in ways God has gifted me for the good of our church.
  • If I disagree with a leadership decision, either accept the authority of the position of pastor (barring clearly unbiblical decisions) or at least have the respect to first approach him privately with concerns rather than publicly.
  • Seek to give more than I take in the relationship.
  • Trust that in God’s sovereignty He has plans I know nothing about, and this pastor at this time in this place is a part of that eternal plan.

I’d love to hear what other ideas you may have.

To my fellow believers everywhere, I encourage you to go out of your way this month (and every month) to show appreciation to your pastor. Let him know you’re praying for him. Be kind. Say words of encouragement. Be a blessing to him and a helper in your shared ministry at church. Love him and those dear to him as though they are a part of your own family because they are. They are a part of a spiritual family that will spend eternity together. We would do well to work hard this side of heaven on getting a great jumpstart on that forever friendship.

Thank you, Mark, and thank you, Kris, and heartfelt thanks to the many other pastors I’ve had in 57 years on this earth who have all played a part in shaping me into who I am. The ripple effect of your work is incalculable. You are loved and greatly appreciated every day of every year.

May God richly bless you and your loved ones as you continue to faithfully serve Him.